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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ecuador, US play down diplomatic spat

QUITO (AFP) — The United States and Ecuador played down talk of a diplomatic row on Monday, days after Quito's decision to expel a US official.

Speaking on Ecuadorian radio, Minister of Security Miguel Carvajal said the decision to expel Armando Astorga on Saturday would not further damage already-strained relations between the two countries.

"We are not going to close the doors to cooperation, quite the contrary, but cooperation has to be based on rules of the game which are absolutely clear," Carvajal said in a radio interview.

He warned the US would not be allowed to use cooperation as a way of influencing the Ecuadorian police appointments.

Astorga had been accused of suspending aid worth 340,000 dollars because the embassy had no say in the appointment of a senior officer in the police's anti-smuggling unit.

"For us it is unacceptable, but it has been common practice for many years," Carvajal said.

President Rafael Correa has warned that future cooperation with the US Coast Guard would be subject to Quito vetting foreign pilots.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood also adopted a conciliatory tone.

He said any problems with Ecuador would be resolved in through diplomacy and indicated Washington's willingness to address any concerns that Quito might have.

Wood also confirmed that Astorga -- who had been responsible for customs issues -- had left Ecuador in January as part of a normal diplomatic rotation.

The spat comes against a backdrop of strained relations between the two countries since Correa's election in 2007.

Since then the Ecuadorian leader has often adopted a stridently anti-US tone and allied himself with Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez.

Last year Correa's government denounced the CIA's infiltration of his intelligence services, telling Washington that he would not allow the United States to continue to use the Manta military installation in southern Ecuador, in use since 1999.

US forces are expected to abandon the base -- used for anti-drug operations -- by November this year.

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